Playing with Siri Intents

I’ve been enjoying playing with the new Siri Intents in iOS 12, and obviously didn’t need much of an excuse to get my Yeltzland app on yet another platform!

Shortcuts from NSUserActivity

It was pretty easy to get some basic integrations with Siri Shortcuts working. I was already using NSUserActivity on each view on the app to support Handoff between devices, so it was quite simple to extend that code for Siri shortcuts.

For example, on the fixture list page I can add the following:

    // activity is the current NSUserActivity object

    if #available(iOS 12.0, *) 
        activity.isEligibleForPrediction = true            
        activity.suggestedInvocationPhrase = "Fixture List"
        activity.persistentIdentifier = String(format: "%@.com.bravelocation.yeltzland.fixtures", Bundle.main.bundleIdentifier!)
    

Making the activity eligible for Prediction means it can be used as a Siri Shortcut, and obviously the suggested invocation phrase is a hint for when you open the shortcut in Settings to be able to open the app directly on the Fixture List view from Siri.

Building a full custom Siri Intent

Probably the most useful app feature to expose via a full Siri Intent is the latest Halesowen score. By that I mean an intent that will speak the latest score, as well as showing a custom UI to nicely format the information.

There are plenty of good guides on how to build a custom Siri Intent out there, so I won’t add much detail on how I did this here.

However one strange issue I couldn’t find a work around for was that, when trying to put a number as a custom property in the Siri response, I couldn’t get the response to be spoken.

As you can see from the setup below, I got around this by passing the game score as a string rather than a number, but I wasted a long time trying to debug that issue. Still no idea why it doesn’t work as expected.

Building a custom UI to show alongside the spoken text was also pretty easy. I’m quite happy with the results – you can see it all working in the video below

To make the shortcut discoverable, I added a “Add to Siri” button on the Latest Score view itself. This is really easy to hookup to the intent by simply passing it in the click handler of the button like this:

    if let shortcut = INShortcut(intent: intent) 
        let viewController = INUIAddVoiceShortcutViewController(shortcut: shortcut)
        viewController.modalPresentationStyle = .formSheet
        viewController.delegate = self
        self.present(viewController, animated: true, completion: nil)
    

I’m sure you’ll agree the view itself looks pretty classy 🙂

Latest Score view

Summary

It was a lot of fun hooking everything up to Siri, and I’m really pleased with how it all turned out.

Overall I think opening up Siri to 3rd party apps could be game-changing for the platform. Previously Siri was so far behind both Google and Amazon it was almost unusable except for the most basic of tasks. However, now it can start working with those apps you use all the time, I can see it being a truly useful assistant.

Siri is still a way behind of course, but once custom parameterised queries are introduced – presumably in iOS 13 – and if the speech recognition can be improved, it is definitely going to be a contender in the voice assistant market.

I’m also looking forward to Google releasing their similar in-app Actions at some point soon.

Exciting times ahead!

find the cost of your paper

Sep 13, Grand Remembrances

Today is Grandparents Day in the United States. Being a Grand is a special honor. I feel very blessed that my wife and I have two grandchildren. We were able to visit them today. Yes, we are still being cautious with the coronavirus, but we also find it very difficult to not see them when they live so close. So today we did drop by to visit Jacob (age 10) and Sophia (age 7) along with their parents. We brought donuts and caught up with them. Our grandchildren are still pretty young and this is a precious time in their lives – and ours!

I wish I had known my grandparents better. We never lived in the same place. Dad was a career Air Force pilot, so we moved around a lot. But we did get to see them once in a while when they would visit us, or we them.

A Plague of Giants

There are five known magical ‘kennings’ or types: air, water, fire, earth, and plants. Each nation specializes in of these kennings, and the magic influences the society. There’s a big pitfall with this diversity of ability and locale–not everyone gets along.

Enter the Hathrim giants, or ‘lavaborn’ whose kenning is fire. Where they live the trees that fuel their fire are long gone, but the giants are definitely not welcome anywhere else. They’re big, they’re violent, and they’re ruthless. When a volcano erupts and they are forced to evacuate, they take the opportunity to relocate. They don’t care that it’s in a place where they aren’t wanted.

I first read Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid books and loved them (also the quirky The Tales of Pell), so was curious about this new venture, starting with A PLAGUE OF GIANTS. Think Avatar: The Last Airbender meets Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera series. Elemental magic, a variety of races, different lands. And it’s all thrown at you from page one.

But this story is told a little differently. It starts at the end of the war, after a difficult victory, and a bard with earth kenning uses his magic to re-tell the story of the war to a city of refugees. And it’s this movement back and forth in time and between key players in this war that we get a singularly grand view of the war as a whole. Hearne uses this method to great effect.

There are so many interesting characters in this book that I can’t cover them all here. Often in books like this such a large cast of ‘main’ character can make the storytelling suffer, especially since they don’t have a lot of interaction with each other for the first 3/4 of the book–but it doesn’t suffer, thankfully. And the characterization is good enough, despite these short bursts, that by the end we understand these people and care about what happens to them.

If there were a main character it would be Dervan, a historian who is assigned to record (also spy on?) the bard’s stories. He finds himself caught up in machinations he feels unfit to survive. Fintan is the bard from another country, who at first is rather mysterious and his true personality is hidden by the stories he tells; it takes a while to understand him. Gorin Mogen is the leader of the Hathrim giants who decide to find a new land to settle. He’s hard to like, but as far as villains go, you understand his motivations and he can be even a little convincing. There’s Abhi, the son of hunters, who decides hunting isn’t the life for him–and unexpectedly finds himself on a quest for the sixth kenning. And Gondel Vedd, a scholar of linguistics who finds himself tasked with finding a way to communicate with a race of giants never seen before (definitely not Hathrim) and stumbles onto a mystery no one could have guessed: there may be a seventh kenning.

There are other characters, but what makes them all interesting is that they’re regular people (well, maybe not Gorin Mogen or the viceroy–he’s a piece of work) who become heroes in their own little ways, whether it’s the teenage girl who isn’t afraid to share vital information, to the scholars who suddenly find how crucial their minds are to the survival of a nation, to the humble public servants who find bravery when they need it most. This is a story of loss, love, redemption, courage, unity, and overcoming despair to not give up. All very human experiences by simple people who do extraordinary things.

Hearne’s worldbuilding is engaging. He doesn’t bottle feed you, at first it feels like drinking from a hydrant, but then you settle in and pick up things along the way. Then he shows you stuff with a punch to the gut. This is no fluffy world with simple magic without price. All the magic has a price, and more often than not it leads you straight to death’s door. For most people just the seeking of the magic will kill you. I particularly enjoyed the scenes with Ahbi and his discovery of the sixth kenning and everything associated with it. But giants? I mean, really? It isn’t bad enough fighting people who can control fire that you have to add that they’re twice the size of normal people? For Hearne if it’s war, the stakes are pretty high, and it gets ugly.

The benefit of the storytelling style is that the book, despite its length, moves along steadily (Hearne is no novice, here). The bits of story lead you along without annoying cliffhangers (mostly), and I never got bored with the switch between characters. It was easy to move between them, and they were recognizable enough that I got lost or confused. The end of the novel felt a little abrupt, but I guess that has more to do with I was ready for the story to continue, despite the exiting climax.

If you’re looking for epic fantasy with fun storytelling and clever worldbuilding, check out A PLAGUE OF GIANTS.

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The Artwork Of Gary Choo

Gary Choo is a concept artist/illustrator based in Singapore. I’ve know Gary for a good many years ( 17, actually ), working together in animation studios in Singapore like Silicon Illusions and Lucasfilm. Gary currently runs an art team at Mighty Bear Games, but when time allows he also draws covers for Marvel comics, and they’re amazing –

The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo

To see more of Gary’s work or to engage him for freelance work, head down to his ArtStation.

The post The Art Of Gary Choo appeared first on Halcyon Realms – Art Book Reviews – Anime, Manga, Film, Photography.

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